Summer was once a time where we got to take a break from the harsh academic world and relax. In an increasingly competitive job market and college application process, summer has transformed into a time for boosting your resume. Being a science major, when I was looking at different types of internships, I was finding it really difficult to find something that fit what I was looking for.
After talking it over with my adviser and fellow students in my major, I was advised to check out the research experiences for undergraduates (REUs), which consists of many different programs which are funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program also has a heavy emphasis on promoting underrepresented groups such as minorities and women, which really set it apart.
One of the major issues that a lot of undergrads face is that although they think they are interested in their major, they really haven’t had any actual experience in it, and taking a class doesn’t tell you whether you truly as passionate about it. However, unlike with other majors, it’s more difficult to get a short term kind of an experience because most places requiring a long term and time intensive commitment.
What It Is
Considered one of the most prestigious undergraduate programs, REUs are aimed to allow undergraduates to have practical experiences in their field of study including science, mathematics, and engineering. If accepted into the program, you will spend your summer with around ten other students, getting valuable hands on experiences. Not only do they offer experience, but you also are provided with free housing and a weekly stipend for the work that is being done, which sets the REU program apart from many others.
How You Apply
Generally, you can go on the NSF website at any time and check the listings for REU’s that are currently accepting applications. However, for most available during the summer, the application is going to be due around February/March. As the program is funded by the government, in order to participate you must be a US resident or citizen. The specifics of the actual applications varies from program to program.
Although I have not participated in an REU, I had the opportunity to sit down with someone who has. Having completed two REUs, this student said that his experience with the program not only taught him a lot of what he was interested in, it also taught him about what he wasn’t interested in. This aided him greatly when he got serious about looking for graduate student programs, as the exact field of study he had previously thought he would make a career out of, he no longer was interested in furthering his education in. On the other hand, his other REU opened him up to an entirely new aspect of the field that he was already in, which dictated his decisions in where he would go to grad school.